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Paris Conference Focuses on Africa's Fight Against Malaria

African health ministers and development experts are gathering in Paris Thursday, for a two-day summit aimed at creating new momentum to fight malaria in Africa.

The World Bank estimates that $2 billion are needed, each year, to fully fight against malaria - a deadly but also extremely treatable disease. So far, only about half that amount is available to do the job.

Why is malaria lacking the kind of attention and dollars showered on other diseases, such as HIV/AIDS? Jean-Louis Sarbib, senior president for human development at the World Bank, has one answer.

"I think there has been a very sad story that malaria is essentially a disease of poor people," he said. "There hasn't been much voice and much pressure, especially outside of poor communities, outside of Africa, to raise the profile of this disease. "

But that is changing. Mr. Sarbib points to July's G8 summit in Scotland, gathering the leaders of industrialized nations. They made a commitment to tackle malaria as part of an overall goal to help Africa.

"Now the G8 has highlighted malaria; now that the numbers are very clear; now that the ministers of finance in many African countries are realizing malaria is actually reducing their growth - is exacting an enormous toll on the production of goods and services - then malaria is climbing back up on the top of the development agenda," he said.

Mr. Sarbib says the two-day summit in Paris is not aimed at getting specific funding commitments, but, rather, at building up a momentum to fight malaria-- with a hope that the dollars to help do so will follow. Experts are also expected to discuss ways to make available effective-but-expensive anti-malarial drugs which most Africans are unable to afford.

Malaria has long grown resistant to the drugs most Africans can afford.But there are also other, less costly malaria-fighting measures, which do not need to wait for new donor commitments. One of them: Making sure African families have insecticide-treated bed nets.